Guest Blogger Cara Elliott!

The Riskies are happy to welcome back Cara Elliott, who kindly agreed to blog about the background of book 2 her “Circle of Sin” series–To Surrender to a Rogue! Comment for a chance to win a copy…

Hi everyone,

It’s a pleasure to be back visiting the Riskies! Yes, yes, I know–I was just here in March, but after a long interlude between series, the first two books of my new trilogy have been released close together. So I’m back to talk about To Surrender to a Rogue, which takes place in Bath amidst an archaeological excavation of Roman ruins.

The “Circle of Sin” features 3 beautiful, brainy female scholars who each has a dark secret in her past. The first book, To Sin With a Scoundrel, highlighted Ciara, the chemistry expert. The current release tells Alessandra’s story. She’s an expert on ancient antiquities, a subject that has fascinated me since I saw a PBS documentary on the Pyramids when I was very little. (I disntinctly remember many days of climbing the hill behind my elementary school during recess, pretending that I was an intrepid explorer scaling the rough-cut rocks to the pinnacle!)

I also have a soft spot in my heart for the hero’s passion. Jack is a highly talented watercolorist, and as art is my background, I’m going to eschew talking about the techniques of digging in favor of painting a brief picture on the subject of pigment and papaer. So without further ado…

Most Regency stories depict watercolor painting as a proper pursuit for young ladies–which it was. However, it was also a subject of serious study for young men. One of the leading watercolorists of the 1700s, Alexander Cozens, taught at Eton for years. In addition to producing hauntingly beautiful works of his own, rendered in an austere, monochromatic palette, he shaped the artistic tastes of a whole generation of English aristocrats. Two of his pupils, Sir George Beaumont and William Beckford, are reocgnized as two of the greatest collectors and connoisseurs of their age.

The Royal Academy, which was founded in 1768, recognized the medium, but for the most part its practitioners were treated as second class citizens by the artists who worked in oil paints. Tired of being dismissed as mere craftsmen rather than creative talents, a group of artists banded together and made a bold move, establishing the Society for Painters in Water-Colours in 1804. (In previous centuries, watercolorists traditionally worked with mapmakers and were seen as recorders of topographical scenes). They held their own shows, which proved to be a critical and financial success. From JMW Turner and Thomas Girtin’s evocative use of color and texture in landscapes to David Roberts’s striking depictions of exotic travel destinations, Regency watercolorists were embraced by the public as true artists. (Roberts in particular served as a model for my hero–his paintings of classical sites in the East were wildly popular with a British audience whose travel opportunities were severely limited by the Napoleonic Wars).

Okay, so many of you have probably dabbled in “watercolors.” But the stuff of grade school art class is a far cry from the “real” thing. So here is primer on the materials and techniques that Regency artists used to create their richly nuanced paintings:

As opposed to oil paints, watercolors are transparent, and an artist builds color, texture, depth and shadow by layering washes of pigment. (There are opaque watercolors, which are made of pigments mixed with white zinc oxide–these are called “body color” by the English, but are more commonly known by the French name of gouache. However, that’s another subject!). Transparent watercolor “paint” is made up of finely ground mineral or organic particles, bound together with two maind additives: gum arabic, which helps adhere the pigment to the paper, and oxgall, a wetting agent which helps disperse the pigment in an even wash. In Regency times, the pigments were formed into a solid square or cake, which would be carried in a wooden paint case. (Tubes of viscous paints were invented by Windsor and Newton in 1846).

An artists would dip his brush in water, then dab it over the block of pigment to dissolve it. The amount of water used determines the intensity of the color. Most artists start with very light washes to lay in the basic elements of their composition, then build depth and details. There are a vast array of pigments, and their names are wonderfully evocative on their own–alizarin crimson, yellow ochre, Vandyke brown, cerulean blue, to name but a few.

If you look closely at a watercolor painting, you may see a faint tracing of lines beneath the color. Many artists used graphite pencils to make a preliminary sketch of the subject. Charcoal (the solid carbon residue from charred twigs heated in an airtight chamber) or black chalk (carbon mixed with clay and gum binders) were also used. They produced a softer, but usually darker line. For some artists, these line sketches were deliberately strong and were used as an intergral part of the finished painting.

Paper is an important component of a watercolor painting because its texture affects the look of the washes. James Whatman created “wove” paper in the 1750s, which quickly became popular with the artists. Wove paper uses a fine wire mesh screen as a mold, making a finer surface than the earlier “laid” papers. This allowed a more uniform wash. (Whitman is still a highly regarded brand today!). The paper made by Thomas Creswick, which offered a rich assortment of textures, was also popular. Another favorite was “scotch” paper, made from bleached linen sailcloth. It had a more rustic feel, and featured imperfections such as specks of organic matter that some artists felt added more interest to their paintings.

Brushes are made from a variety of furs. During the Regency, squirrel was favored for soft, wide brushes designed to lay in broad washes. But the very best ones were made of asiatic marten–or Russian sable–as they held their shape very well and could be twirled to a very fine point in order to paint in detail.

So, now that you’re all art experts, which do you prefer–watercolor or oil painting? And do you have a favorite artist? I’m a big fan of Turner and Constable (both of whom painted wonderful images in both mediums).

To celebrate the release of To Surrender to a Rogue, I’ll be giving away a signed copy of the book to a lucky winner!

About Amanda McCabe/Laurel McKee

Writer (as Amanda McCabe, Laurel McKee, Amanda Carmack), history geek, yoga enthusiast, pet owner!
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34 Responses to Guest Blogger Cara Elliott!

  1. Deb says:

    Congrats on your newest release, Cara.

    I prefer oil paintings, but have seen some beautiful watercolors. My favorite artist is my mother. I have several of her paintings in my house and they vary from mountains to a farm kitchen scene.

  2. Cara Elliott says:

    How lovely, Deb. My mother was a really talented watercolor painter too, and I have many of her works hanging in my house. It’s a wonderful emotional connection to the art.

  3. Amy Kathryn says:

    I will join the club….my mother is my favorite watercolor artist also. We took a beginner class together 10 years ago. It did not appeal to me but has become her avocation. She has won several prizes and sold some work. I claim my favorites directly from the studio!

    My favorite oils are from the American Impressionists, especially Robert Reid.

    I look forward to reading this book….I enjoyed To Sin with a Scoundrel.

  4. Cara Elliott says:

    Sounds like we have some truly talented mothers here! (Amanda’s mom is a real artist with needle and thread)

    Thanks for the nice words on Scoundrel, Kathryn. I hope you enjoy Rogue.

  5. penney says:

    Great blog today, I enjoyed reading it, thanks for being here I love the cover of your new book it sounds great I’m looking forward to reading it.
    Happy summer reading!

  6. jcp says:

    I like paintings done in both oils and watercolors. I like Monet and Mary Cassett

  7. Hi Cara! So glad they are releasing these books quickly.

    I am a fan of both oils and watercolors. I love Turner’s work. His paintings just draw me into the scene.

    When it comes to oils I love Rembrandt. Spent a lovely afternoon with his Nightwatch in Amsterdam. Amazing painting. During that same trip I spent an entire day in the Van Gogh museum. His use of color still astounds me.

    I love the idea of a hero who is a watercolorist!

  8. Kat says:

    I like watercolor landscapes, light, airy, and romantic.

  9. Cara Elliott says:

    Thanks, Penney!

  10. Diane Gaston says:

    Hi, Cara! Welcome back!
    My hero in Gallant Officer, Forbidden Lady was an artist in oil, which, in the Regency, required other techniques, including the mixing of paints and storing them in a cloth bladder – no tubes of paint like is available now.

    It sounds like watercolor paint is made much the same now. Its dry state, activated by water, made it the perfect medium for travel.

    I admire watercolorists, because you really have to make the image perfect the first time. No scraping it off with a palette knife and starting over.

  11. Cara Elliott says:

    Louisa, I’m a big fan of Turner, both in watercolor and in oil. His use of light is so beautiful, and his imagination so modern.

    And Rembrandt is amazing too. So many painters are captivating. Like authors, they present such wonderful nuances and individuality in there works, even when telling an oft-told “tale” (ie. painting a bowl of fruit, or a well-known church or landscape.)

  12. Cara Elliott says:

    Thanks for having me Diane.Isn’t art fascinating to research!

    Actually watercolor artists can scrape a bit—that’s why paper was so important. The thickness allowed a painter to literally remove a layer of paint(within reason) and burnish the grain down again to accept a new wash. They also used various “blocking” agents that would repel color, and then could be rubbed off to reveal the original whiteness of the paper. Or they could use a bit of opaque watercolor, or guauche to touch up mistakes. Lots of tricks! But definitely not as many choices as with oil.

  13. I love watercolors. There’s no forgiveness; you either get it right or you don’t. Strangely enough I have the hero of IMPROPER RELATIONS turning to watercolors and domestic tranquillity in the next book for LBD. I’m not quite sure how it happened, but there it is…

    Great to have you back, Cara

  14. Wow, you can tell Miss Cara really knows her stuff. I’ve probably learned more about history and art and ancient antiques in 3 months of ‘historicals’ reading than I ever did in my HS history classes. This all seems really intrigueing.

    I love art, but sad to say, I can never be consistent with it. My crown and glory is a picture of a monochromatic crazy kitty. He was different colors of blue and had his tongue sticking out like “WATZZUP”… Took me a whole marking period to complete…now it lays in the dumpster behind my old alma mater >=/

    Best of success Miss Cara and Risky Regencies Ladies <3

  15. Barbara E. says:

    Wow, what a fascinating post. I never realized there was so much more to watercolors than what we did in grade school.
    I’m looking forward to reading your Circle of Sin series, especially Surrender to a Rogue.

  16. Virginia says:

    Congrats on your new release! I have been seeing it around and would love to read it!

    I don’t know much about art but I guess I would choose oil Paintings. I have just not been around good art that much! Thanks for sharing!


  17. Aloha, Cara! I enjoyed reading that your hero, Lord Jack, appreciated art! And I really enjoyed the heroine, Alessandra, appreciated antiquities! I have always been fascinated with the Roman antiquities, especially how far the Empire stretched, so it was fun to read your story about an archeological dig near Bath. Having seeing the Roman ruins in Rome, Spain, Scotland, and Wales, you were on target with your research!

    Looking forward to the next book … and seeing you in Orlando

  18. I love oils, and my favorite artists are John Singer Sargent, Gustav Klimt and some German artist I saw an exhibit of at MOMA. Can’t remember his name, obviously, but I thought his work was amazing.

    Congratulations on the release, Cara! I have my copy on my bed table already.

  19. Hi Cara
    Thanks for a lovely post and some wonderful examples from the heyday of English watercolors. I have family work in the house too. My father and his grandmother were both talented watercolorists (love free art). My very favorite watercolorist, however, is Winslow Homer. Alas, I don’t have any of those on my walls 🙂

  20. oneredboot says:

    Thanks for this enlightening post. I wonder if the disregard for watercolor as a medium had to do with its association with women, and the denigration of “female” arts?

  21. Cara Elliott says:

    Janet, I cant’ wait to read about your watercolorist hero. Knowing your wonderful creation of characters, he’ll be fun to read!

  22. Cara Elliott says:

    Thanks, Barbara, Rita and Virgina,

    Glad you enjoyed the post, and hope you like Rogue.

  23. c says:

    Hi Kim, thanks for stopping by. It was you wonderful travelogue that really inspired me to take a closer look at Roman ruins in England—so thank you!

    Looking forward to seeing youn in Orland.

  24. Cara Elliott says:

    Miranda, Homer is a huge favorite of muine too. Alas, none of his work on my walls either, LOL

  25. Cara Elliott says:

    Megan, Klimt was a huge favorite of my Mom’s and I love Sargent—both amazing artists.

  26. I’m not an artist and know very little about the process, so it’s like a bit of magic to me.

    I don’t know what type of paints he used, but I love the work of Fredrick Lord Leighton.

  27. Daphne says:

    I like both to view. Have only tried watercolors myself and the delicacy and subtlety elude me. Acrylics like me better and Fauvism (or fingerpainting?) is the best I can do. Love Turner. And, love Constable’s peaceful, sleepy country scenes. Wish I had inherited some of the family’s artistic talent though I think my relatives’ successes were more through diligence/application than genius. Probably a lesson there. Anyway, neat little history lesson and interesting choices for your protagonists. I’ll have to keep my eye out for this title.

  28. Cara Elliott says:

    An interesting observation, oneredboot. But in this case, I don’t think the prejudice stemmed from gender. Watercolors, by virtue of their ‘speed” and ease of travel, were often used by mapmakers ans surveyors to record topographical details, so the medium became identified with craftsmen more than artists. Thus, many people who worked in oil paints thus looked down their noses at watercolorists, and didn’t consider them “real” artists.

  29. Cara Elliott says:

    Gillian, art really is magic!

  30. ~Drew says:

    I love the sound of your book, all the best for it’s release!

    I prefer oil paintings myself, the masters rule!

  31. Cara Elliott says:

    Thanks, Drew!

  32. “Sounds like we have some truly talented mothers here! (Amanda’s mom is a real artist with needle and thread)”

    Maybe that’s why we ended up creative–it’s in the genes :))

    I do love art, and hearing about various techniques used in historical works! When I tried to take a drawing class in high school it was a disaster (even my stick figures didn’t look right!) so it makes me admire great painters even more

  33. Cara Elliott says:

    Oh, definitely in the genes, Amanda!
    Huzzah to artistic mothers

  34. Alison says:

    I love the way the watercolour flows on paper, and I like making coloured patterns, but no, I can’t draw. In ‘Alice in Wonderland’ someone lists a young girl’s accomplishments as ‘reeling, writhing and fainting in coils’. I can’t faint in coils either!

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